I might have known on the flight fron Bahrain and then on the train ride in India from Chennai to Kakinada that this was to be a remarkable trip. There were divine appointments scattered all along the way. Sevi on the plane and then Prahas on the train and Pastor Rao had his own encounter on the way to meet me that resulted in a changed life.
The first pastors’ seminar on cleansing of shame and the five-fold ministry in Kakinada was held high on the third level of a rental building overlooking the harbor on a beautiful sunny day, and they had hung a banner from the balcony welcoming me, which when I beheld it became one of my favorite moments of the trip, though there were 4 more seminars including teaching on the 7 churches of the Book of Revelation to come in various areas of India and Sri Lanka including a session with a Bible College class of Buddhist background believers.
I couldn’t help but notice on the crowded train from Chennai how quickly the passengers bonded in our compartment morphing into a makeshift family for 9 or 10 hours of the trip. It was much more of a communal experience than a corresponding trip on an American train would have been.
The sewing machine we provided for the women’s sewing circle was an encouagement as were the school supplies where we met a little girl weeping for want of a pencil. I gave Pastor Rao letters written to his Sunday School children (hoping to begin some pen pal relationships) as well as a pastor’s backpack for his work in the rural villages.
The following week in Chandighar to the north Pastor Jagan showed me a neighborhood dubbed Rickshaw Row where so many of the rickshaw drivers lived. Drug addiction and prostitution were rampant and children roamed unattended and at risk in dangerous conditions. Jagan’s heart is to raise up a church there where there are already a couple of believers. Jagan’s apartment is a Grand Central Station of church members and neigborhood children coming and going on various errands or visits, and there is really the sense of family and face-to-face fatherhood in his ministry though they have so little in a material way. Many of them seem also to be fighting nagging coughs and chronic health problems yet they soldier on undaunted, much more concerned for my health and comfort than their own.
It was a blessing to be able to provide slate writing boards in the daycare there for the children who were having to do without them since there hadn’t been enough to go around. Though I mistakenly drank the wrong glass of water and suffered for it, I couldn’t remain in bed Sunday morning hearing the worship songs rising from the sanctuary below was irresistible. Jagan immediately made way and I preached after all!
Back in the south we ventured next to meet Pastor Stephen (brother to Barnabas)in Vellore in the mountains for a couple more pastor seminars. This was the most geographically beautiful part of India for me. One of the pastors in one seminar had lost his church in the flooding and needed funds for reconsruction. It felt good to be able to offer him a significant part of that funding. All along the way of this itinerary I have been able to visit and speak in obscure village churches and home churches, and prayer groups where missionaries like me have never been. It occurred to me as I witnessed their delight in receiving my messages that they have been used to, say, chocolate and vanilla spiritual flavors and here I was bringing them strawberry and peach for the first time! Hence I was followed by some from village to town to village to hear the next message, which were never repeated but always unique to each location. Barnabas was so impressed (and to God be the glory!) that he requested I write the 25 or 30 sermons given and send them by email so he can translate them into Tamil and make little booklets to distribute in India and, hopefully, Sri Lanka.
Speaking of Sri Lanka the 4 days on that beautifully green island were the perfect culmination to an amazing journey. My translator, Rev.Tony spoke the most fluent English of all the translators, (at times there were two at once) and we were talking and fellowshipping almost continually from which we both benfited and learned much, though Pastor Phillip translated for the final leaders’ seminar on the cleansing of shame and did admirably as the others had. Tony told me of a prayer walk conducted in Sri Lanka on one of the highest elevations and Buddhist temple sites. The organizers had forgotten to bring their shophar to blow but a 3 year old girl volunteered to offer her own substitute. She proceeded eerily to reproduce the exact sound of the shophar which had so impressed her before, using merely her own voice and lungs!
In Mallavi Sri Lanka we provided 2 bags of clothing for shoeless orphan and refugee children, also toys and Bibles in Tamil where a girl was literally crying for one. There are still about 160 families living in a refugee camp we visited built more than 20 years ago after the time of their civil war. Some of these families attend Pastor Ashok's church. They have dirt floors and no bathrooms and leaking thatch roofs. We also were able to contribute toward the repair of a Pastor Ashok’s washing machine, which may seem in sharp contrast, but this is a great blessing for his wife whose back was injured repeatedly being thrown from a motorbike on bumpy dirt roads as she tried to accompany her husband to minister in the rural villages.
A spontaneous praise session on the final night in Sri Lanka in the home of a Christian taxi driver from Colombo punctuated a powerful sojourn there which they told me repeatedly they’d never forget. (Nor will I!) Pastor Barnabas informed me that when the apostle Thomas first came to Kerala, India he encountered sun worshippers in a river splashing water high into the air in homage to their god. Thomas asked them why their god didn’t catch the water. He told them he would proceed to throw water to the True God who would catch it. He did just that and the water hovered above defying gravity. From that time many began to believe in the true God and to follow Thomas about as he performed miracle after miracle including one Samsonesque feat of dragging a huge tree from a river where it had obstructed the current, something none could do before him. I think that’s a good note to close with for now, it was thrilling to be in a place where the gospel had taken its grand effect so long ago and continues to do so today.!
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